Paragliding at Ohrid lake

One more thing off the bucket list!

Not that it was my first flight, though. I was airborne in 2011, when I got the opportunity to fly a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings. 2011 was my best trip in Egypt, although it was highly recommended to stay in Luxor where it was safe. It was a time of major political upheaval, and the tourist business had collapsed. There were no tour buses, only individual travellers. I remember visiting a few tombs all alone, no crowds, no cueing up to do. Prices had plummeted. Every evening, us travellers met up with some locals for a good meal. I remember a lot of drinking was involved, as well by the Egyptians as by the Westerners. Wikipedia has an informative article about the Egyptian revolution of 2011 online.

For paragliding, the wind direction decides where will be your starting point, which was -exceptionally-in a national park today. Rendez-vous this morning at 7.30 at the harbour, where a comfortable car was waiting for me and another guest from Sunny Lake hostel. Quite a stressful start of the day, not because of the early departure time, but because 2 girls from another hostel who were supposed to fly, weren’t there. According to the manager, the ladies were still sound asleep, which meant of course money loss for the company, as they hadn’t asked for an account. Pretty sure this will change soon. As a result, angry phone calls in Macedonian were our part.

Before going into the mountains, we were asked to switch cars, because we had to go over mountain roads to reach the starting point. There was a nice four wheel drive, which of course was full, and I and the other adventurer were were offered a seat in a car one might call vintage, but which was more of a catastrophe on wheels. The picture above is taken at the intersection, below are some of the cars.

As one can imagine, the road to the top was like a rally. Wearing a helmet in the car wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The driver abused the vehicle, which shrieked and moaned at every turn. We needed to stop a few times because the old car really couldn’t take the load of 4 passengers plus 2 on the roof, plus all the gear. The whole crew would push and maneuver the catastrophe on wheels until we were a go again.

A kilometer or so away from the top, the car got overheated. While the men seemed to be arguing about the state of the car and the technical problems that had occurred, I decided to make the best of it and have a look around. Quite a pretty place, I must say. A few days of hiking in this lovely national park, combined with some shopping before and after seems like a good idea. May is ideal, apparently, when it’s cooler and nature comes back to life after a harsh winter.

Eventually, the four wheel drive picks us up, I put on orange lipstick matching my nail polish, and for the occasion, I was wearing a t-shirt saying “Live the way you want to be remembered.” I had decided that if I had to go, I’d go in style. Needless to say, I wore my fashionably oversized shades during the flight.

I did make a fuss about the gear though. The old helmets were way too big for me, and they looked so old and used that I imagined they would do more harm than good during a crash. The instructor said: when we have an accident, the helmet will not make a difference. So I said: Well, if it doesn’t, just give me your new, fancy helmet. Of course, he had no more arguments 🙂 In the end, the instructor gave me his helmet, which curiously enough seemed to fit like a glove compared to the other two I had tried on. We had a deal, I was going to fly.

Was I scared? Given the helmet story one might say I was worried about my security, with reason, but once that problem was settled I strangely enough felt pretty confident about the flight. It was too late to change my mind now anyways.

Take off is an easy peasy, you let yourself fall forwards into the harness and take three steps. Before you know it, you’re in the air. No fear, I was remarkably calm, felt peaceful, enjoying the elements and feeling connected with nature. The view is sublime, the sense of freedom is unequaled, it’s pure joy. I think I smiled the full 25 minutes. I’ll check out the DVD at home, everything was filmed with a GoPro. Better than the hot air balloon, because you’re not in a basket with a dozen other people. In a hot-air balloon, you could enjoy toast with marmalade and a nice cup of tea. In skydiving, paragliding, jumping out of an airplane, there is you, and your instructor behind you, well, captain really,  because he does all the work. We had a nice little chat and we came to the conclusion that his job is not the worst in the world, even if you have to push a car from time to time 😉

(honesty bids me to say that this problem normally doesn’t exist since the usual starting point has a nice asphalted road all the way to the top)



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